Coal lobby group drafted state utility commissioners’ letters to FERC

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By Joe Smyth, Energy and Policy Institute

Emails obtained through a public records request show that letters signed by state utility regulators to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission were actually drafted by a coal industry lobbying group.

Over the last two months, public service commissioners from Montana, Tennessee, Alabama, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Kentucky signed their names to letters urging FERC to take up the Trump administration’s coal plant bailout proposal.

But emails to West Virginia public service commissioners show that the commissioners’ letters were part of a campaign orchestrated by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). Jon McKinney, a consultant for ACCCE, admitted to the scheme in an interview with Bloomberg News, and said “he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.”

Utility Dive reported earlier this month that a spokesperson for the Montana Public Service Commission claimed “The states’ letters were sent independently of each other,” while other state commissioners declined to comment.

The emails show that McKinney, who is also a former West Virginia Public Service Commission Chairman, wrote to West Virginia public service commissioners on July 30: “We hope that you and other commissioners will send a letter to FERC,” and attached a template letter titled “Sample Commissioners DRAFT to FERC.”

In another email, McKinney wrote to confirm an August 14 meeting between West Virginia Public Service Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Lane, ACCCE CEO Michelle Bloodsworth, ACCCE Chief Policy Officer Paul Bailey, and McKinney, in order to “discuss email I sent asking you to request FERC to make a decision on the open resilience docket.” Less than two weeks later, the PSC Chairwoman wrote to McKinney: “This Letter went out today,” and included an attachment of the letter she sent to FERC.

In the following weeks, public service commissioners from five other states also sent letters to FERC. While the letters from the West Virginia Public Service Commission Chairwoman and Kentucky Public Service Commission Chairman Michael Schmitt were customized, the letters signed by utility regulators in Montana, Tennessee, and Alabama used the coal lobby group’s template letter word-for-word. The Wyoming Public Service Commission Chairman’s letter customized the first paragraph, but the rest of the letter also copied the ACCCE template letter.

Here’s the sample letter that ACCCE provided to the commissioners:

The letter signed by Montana Public Service Commission Chairman Brad Johnson – who “told Lee Montana Newspapers on Oct. 7 that he wasn’t sure who actually wrote it” – is a word-for-word copy of the template letter that ACCCE provided:

Similarly, the letter from Tennessee PSC Vice-Chairman Kenneth Hill also copied the ACCCE template letter verbatim:

The letter signed by Alabama Public Service Commission Vice-Chairman Jeremy Oden was also identical to the template letter. Oden apparently neglected to even personalize the “I am/We are” parts of the template letter, as Jeff Dennis pointed out:

ACCCE lost major member companies after its contractor was caught sending fraudulent letters to Congress in opposition to federal climate legislation in 2009 that were made to look like they had been sent by veterans, women’s, and civil rights groups. Duke Energy left the group the following month, followed by several other major electric utilities. Remaining ACCCE members include coal mining companies such as Peabody Energy and Murray Energy, railroad companies including BNSF, Union Pacific, CSX, and Norfolk Southern, and electric utilities Southern Company and American Electric Power.

 

This article was first published on the Energy and Policy Institute website. It has been reprinted with permission.